The Basics of the Option Play

From little league to the big leagues, the option play is a staple of strategy, confusion, and athleticism. Originally designed in the Wing T formation, the option has developed with the modern game and can be found at all levels of play. I will explain the basics of the most commonly used versions of the option. Remember that the play is called an OPTION, meaning the specifics can be changed to fit the need of different teams, players, and situations.

Triple Option

The most complicated run play in football can be stripped down to three key words: DIVE, KEEP, PITCH. The first option is the DIVE, usually to the fullback. This option is chosen by the quarterback reading the “dive key” and either handing the ball off or keeping it. KEEPing the ball is the second option. Deciding to continue running with the ball or to PITCH it to the running back is the third option. This option is decided by the quarterback reading the “pitch key”. As with so many options of where the ball can go there are just as many options of how to block for this play. The simplest way would be to have the offensive line block for a dive play, with the play side tackle or tightend bypassing the defensive end to block the nearest linebacker. The fullback takes the dive path expecting to receive the ball, but carries out a fake if he doesn’t. The running back takes the sweep path and keeps a pitch relation with the quarterback expecting to receive the pitch. The quarterback’s “dive key” is usually the first play side defensive lineman, who dictates if the quarterback will handoff the ball or keep it. After the dive key, the quarterback takes an option path towards the unblocked defensive end, who becomes the “pitch key”. The quarterback then decides to either keep the ball or PITCH it to the running back who is in pitch relation.

** There are numerous variations of this play. Too many for me to describe in this article.

Triple Option (Shotgun Formation)

Essentially this play is run with the same basic principles of the normal triple option: DIVE, KEEP, PITCH. The key difference in the shotgun formation is the flexibility to incorporate more elaborate options in the play design.

 

Read Option

This play is run strictly out of the shotgun formation. The quarterback has only one “read” to make a decision with the ball. The quarterback’s options are a)handoff b)keep/run. The most widely used version of this play is the zone read. In the Zone Read, the offense runs the Zone play. The tackle or tightend on the back side of the zone play bypasses the defensive end to block the nearest linebacker. The quarterback “reads” this unblocked defensive end to decide whether to handoff the ball or keep it and run. If the defensive end chases the the running back on the zone play, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs opposite the zone. If the defensive end stays back side of the zone, the quarterback gives the ball to the running back who runs the Zone play as normal.

 

Speed Option

This play can be run from under center or shotgun. Similar to the Read Option this play only has one “read”. In the speed option the offense runs the Zone play to the same side as the “read” player. The tackle or tightend on the play side of the zone play bypasses the defensive end to block the nearest linebacker. The running back takes a sweep path and keeps pitch relation with the quarterback expecting the pitch. The quarterback “reads” this unblocked defensive end to decide whether to pitch the ball or keep it and run. If the defender attempts to tackle the quarterback he pitches the ball, if the defender attempts to tackle the running back the quarterback keeps the ball. This play happens much quicker than any other option play and usually catches defenses off guard when properly executed.

 

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